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Video: Q&A on Innovate UK Transport Vision 2050

The MPA Innovate Lunch & Learn series brings our viewers bitesize thought leadership, opinions and discussion on key topics surrounding innovation and business.

In this session, we were delighted to be joined by Dr Alistair Barnes, Zero Emission Vehicles Innovation Lead at Innovate UK/ UKRI, to talk through some key areas of innovation, as well as potential challenges in the UKs plan to achieve net zero in transportation by 2050. We discuss this in the context of Innovate UK’s Transport Vision 2050 which supports the Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution alongside the UK Innovation Strategy.


In August, Innovate UK released it's Transport Vision 2050 which supports the Government's 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution alongside the UK Innovation Strategy. I'm delighted to be joined today by Dr Alastair Barnes from Innovate UK to discuss some of the key areas of innovation as well as potential challenges in the UK's plan to achieve net zero by 2050. Alistair, would you mind introducing yourself? Certainly, thank you very much pleased to be here. So I'm looking forward to this conversation. My role is generally around zero mission vehicles at Innovate UK so we're working as part of the UK's efforts to uh to reach net zero and then also we're trying to make sure that UK businesses are at the centre of this. I've got a technical engineering background and I've previously worked in batteries and in aerospace. Great, thank you. So the first question really is kind of a bit of background information on the report. So where does the vision come from and what does it aim to achieve?

Sure. So it's a really interesting publication the UK Transport Vision 2050. It aims to align Government and industry around a single vision for the future of transport and defines what we think transport will look like in 2050, as well as all the steps along the way. So predictions for 2050 and then predictions for each decade. Then it's also useful in terms of informing Innovate UK's strategy so ensuring that we can deliver towards a sort of a consensus that's supported by industry. We've gathered together around 200 experts and we've done quality research and as part of that we've sort of produced this vision for the future and then we can use that to kind of to try and make sure that the UK can achieve its ambitions but not only that but achieving the quickly and to lower cost. Then the UK Transport Vision 2050 is also useful for stimulating discussion so there's some areas for transport that no one's really sure about and it plays an important role in just sort of making sure that we can sort of figure out where we need to go in a particular direction. So where there is uncertainty in the industry it kind of makes that really obvious and helps us to figure out what conversations do we need to have to decide the future. Brilliant, so how have you found that the response has been so far? I saw you were recently featured in Forbes which is pretty impressive! It's been really good, I've had some really interesting conversations from the back of it and I think quite a lot of my colleagues have as well so it's just sort of good to kind of at this point in time gauge everyone's view on what we've come up with and capture the agreements capture this disagreement. Then there's another aspect which I think is really useful and that is recently the UK Government has produced an innovation strategy so our Transport Vision 2050 document is useful for kind of ensuring that that we're directing everybody in in the right way.

Brilliant. Okay so the next thing I really wanted to ask about was what you think one of the key areas are where innovation really needs to occur in order to achieve this vision?

Okay so in terms of the UK Transport Vision 2050 document, we've split it into six complementary areas. So we've got travel and transport, demand connectivity, energy vectors, autonomy, business models and infrastructure. And then within these we've got predictions about what we think will happen. Then defining the key areas that innovation is needed in is quite difficult in some cases especially when we don't have that concern consensus as I mentioned a minute ago. So as an example for travel and transport demand there are some industry forecasts that predict significant growth and demand but then there's other scenarios such as those laid out by the Climate Change Committee which assume reduction in travel demand and modal shift away from the most polluting forms of transport, so I think we need more discussion in these areas. So we're keen to get people to kind of shape what we what they think the the answer is there, so there is the link where people can can put in for feedback and and I think it's at the moment it's about figuring out what those disagreements are and trying to kind of clarify them, that that's the the most important area that we need to focus on right now. Okay yes I'll definitely share the the survey link alongside this recording. I think one area that anyone listening, particularly our clients would be interested in here is business models. So I wondered if there's any insight that you could share into the type of innovation that might be needed regarding business models? Sure, I remember when we were writing this section report there was of the report there was lots of discussions here, for example there's sort of big predictions around around micro mobility, but one particular topic that I think is interesting is around home delivery. So we all know how useful this is and we all probably also know that it's not really a very good thing for the environment, so I think here there's a need for innovation in in business models that can serve the needs of future consumers but without harming the planet. These sort of environmentally focused business model changes are going to be really important in the future.

Brilliant. So where would you say the biggest challenges lie um looking at the report and what we're hoping to achieve? So definitely for the UK and probably the rest of the world I think the biggest challenge is around energy vectors or the fuel that we use to power transport. So at the moment we're kind of very used to our petrol and our diesel cars and lorries and trains and things like that, but in order to change this to an electrified power source or maybe hydrogen there's so much coordination that's needed in Government in regulation for vehicle OEMs, after sales infrastructure, consumer behavior so there's a really big sort of shift and transitions we need to go through and that needs strong leadership, but then it also I think it needs a lot of trust in people to kind of change the way that they've been living for a really long time. So battery electric cars are a great example of this. They've been gradually moving from a point of being sort of pre-commercial and then R&D and then some early adopter uptake but now in the UK you can buy an electric car from I think the majority of the main automotive original equipment manufacturers, but we still have a lot of background we need to cover before we can get to this point in 2030 or 2035 while we will ban the sale of sort of tailpipe emitting or polluting vehicles, so there's a huge amount that needs to go to kind of to help us and for people to get on board with this transition.

And I guess that's passenger cars but we've got the same sort of things that we need to do for rail for aero and on sea shipping, so it's I think it's that change of energy vectors that's really critical. Yeah okay. So what do you regarding I suppose the UK in particular what would you say are our biggest strengths in the development of zero emission vehicles? Sure. In the UK I think we have a particularly strong engineering and innovation industry. There's a sort of Global Innovation Index that ranks the UK and and all the other countries in the world, and the UK is now ranking fourth for innovation which is particularly impressive considering there's so many sort of prominent countries that are also have strengths these areas. Many international companies do their R&D in the UK. There's lots of companies that have sort of international footprints and manufacturing all over the world but then they have their main offices for R&D here, and that's for the same reason. And there's also many world leading universities with with experts that are internationally renowned for their technical knowledge in a variety of fields, so whilst I'd like to see more manufacturing in the UK, I think it's pretty hard to dispute the the engineering innovation strength we have as a country.

Yes, I totally agree - so many of our clients are working in this space and it's always interesting to see you know how their work is contributing towards well what they're producing standalone but also how it's contributing towards the UK's reputation, you know sitting at the forefront of global innovation. So yes I completely understand. So how would you say that the UK compares to the rest of the world particularly in the move towards net zero?

This question's really difficult to answer. A lot of people have different views, I know Greta Thunberg there was it was a quote recently that she said that some countries are doing better than others but basically that no country is doing anywhere in near enough and whilst that feels pretty bleak and you know everyone who's involved in the work in this area would probably wish that wasn't the case, I think it's quite hard to sort of strongly disagree with. And then one challenge we've come across as part of that UK Transport Vision 2050 document that I mentioned is that it isn't really very clear how how good the UK is in terms of supply chain strength in the transport sector. So we know that we work with some really good businesses and innovators and I know many of them, I'm sure you do and I'm sure there's many in the audience but it's hard to compare that our strengths and weaknesses against the rest of the world um or maybe to look at say our our research funding and how that contributes into the number of successful businesses. So sort of following on from that UK Transport Vision 2050, we've been looking at our supply chain sort of strengths and weaknesses over the last year and we're working to collate findings now, so I think in the coming weeks we'll have some more publications on that. Brilliant, so where would you advise people go to look out for these new publications or updates? Sure, the Innovate UK LinkedIn page is a pretty good place but then there's also a website and a Twitter page. So I think it's mostly about sort of being aware and checking in and signing up to mailing lists and things like that just just to make sure that you know what Innovate UK is doing. Great, okay. So a bit more of a personal question I suppose. What are some of the most exciting developments or innovations that you have personally seen in this space over the last few years? Sure, I think for me it's the more consumer focused ones. So the electric cars that have started our transition. So there's the the Tesla Model S, Model 3, the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, and then in America the Chevrolet Bolt. And whilst these are really consumer focused, I think their increasing success over the last few years has been really critical to pushing the industry forwards. They've shown policy makers that there are some really strong options for transport that don't rely on fossil fuel fuels and don't contribute to poor air quality in urban areas. So they've helped to encourage a whole generation of SMEs such as Yasser Motors and that's how Innovate UK support and basically just sort of proved that that there's this option out there that really is becoming very viable.

Yeah, I feel like probably a lot of people would think that Tesla really stands out here because they've just drummed up so much demand for their cars. I know earlier you're talking about, you know getting consumer buy-in and I feel like that's something that that they've done really really well, so yeah no I would agree with you on that.

So I suppose yes part of this does think about consumer buy-in, but the next question I wanted to ask was what you think is critical to the success of the adoption of zero emission vehicles by the general public?

Sure okay. It's another another tricky question really. I think there's a lot that we need to do for education, so I guess there are a small number of people who've been driving maybe maybe Tesla's or maybe Nissan Leafs and driving for a number of years and they've kind of experienced this. They know what works and what doesn't work but they're kind of on board with it now. But then for everyone else and this is sort of 99% of the population in the UK it's a massive and it's a scary change and there are loads of unknowns. So I think, I mean again this is my view, I think that the technology and the latest generation of electric cars the ones you can sort of buy today or order soon and might be delivered in a couple of months time it's significantly better than I think the average member of public realizes. So you know people sort of think that range is a huge problem and batteries will be worn out after a couple of years but that's just not really the case anymore. And then the charging infrastructure is also catching up, so modern vehicles have got decent range and then they're able to charge pretty quickly when you need to. Infrastructure is still definitely an issue, I think that'll be the case for quite a long time but it seems that the UK, if you sort of look at reports of benchmark the UK against France or Germany or Sweden, it looks like we're doing pretty well in terms of having vehicle charging available on key routes. And then if you can charge at home it's also very helpful but if you don't have a driveway and you can't charge at home then then there's definitely still a problem here. So I think it's education but then there's sort of the sort of knock on us to the second level issues like charging at home when you don't have a driveway or cost or maybe just sort of charging rates and things like that or availability of charges. I was quite pleased to see something though recently which I think is maybe a bit overdue, which is a publication from OZEV, the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles, which is part of the Department for Transport, about it was basically myth busting it's about common misconceptions about electric vehicles and that it's just sort of a short article and it does a great job of correcting some of the myths or maybe educating the people who take a look at it so it's a big problem but I think it's one that we'll sort of gradually get over as society moves forwards. Yeah I'll share a link to that document. I think you're right, there are a lot of myths still around about electric vehicles. I have heard recently about some companies offering electric or hybrid options as company cars and this is usually like a part of their sustainability strategy. Do you expect this might become more common or do you think that the government will incentivize this kind of initiative?

I really hope so, I think it's a really useful and important thing to do. I think there are some companies for car leasing now that only deal with battery electric vehicles or maybe hybrids as well, and would probably be very useful resources for businesses who are looking to switch but we provide the whole package and the education that's needed as well. And I think as well in the UK we've had a tax advantage for company cars. Zero emission vehicles over recent years and these are all really helpful not only for kind of the short term but stimulating second-hand market because then you'll get a lot of well looked after cars that will be available in a couple of years which will help bring costs down so I really like this sort of thing. I hope it'll continue. Yes yeah no fingers crossed and yes like you said hopefully the second-hand car market will make these vehicles more accessible. So the next yeah the next question I really wanted to ask was about how technology might improve safety and transportation between now and 2050?

Sure so technology and safety. Technology has always been really critical to improving safety and I guess what I'm saying is it's not something that's starting now but it's something that's been happening for many many years. I guess sort of the tech as opposed to like seat belt design and things like that has really been improving over the last couple of years in particular, so I think euro and cap who do vehicle safety assessments, I think they already look at safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking AEP and driver attentiveness and that many vehicles on the road already have automated lane keeping systems. Again going back to Transport Vision 2050, we think that the roads of the future will have junctions which are controlled by artificial intelligence and allow what will help vehicles to operate all autonomously we'll also have connectivity between vehicles, so there's sort of a congestion or an accident or some road of structure on the head then the vehicles behind it will maybe get notified automatically and this will also work both ways so road authorities can kind of notify vehicles and sort of block off routes that have a hazard associated with them. And all this connectedness we've kind of seen how much it's changed our personal lives and, you know the use of mobile phones and things like that and as vehicles and hardware becomes more connected as well. I think that'll have a quite an impact on safety that I think is quite hard to realize at the moment or even to visualize at the moment so it's definitely already happening and they're going to continue. Yeah and I think you're right, it sometimes is difficult to imagine what things will look like in the next you know 10 20 years but yeah I completely believe that an increase in connectedness, in particular it's going to make a huge difference. Yeah, if you were to go back 20 years and and try and predict what today would be like it's really difficult, isn't it? Yeah no it is, it really is. Okay, so my final question really is just around which areas of net zero transportation and infrastructure do you think are key for innovation?

Sure, okay there are many many things that we need to do, or many opportunities for UK businesses but I think that the top one for me is all about cost because cost is a huge barrier to entry yet we need to decarbonize as quickly as we possibly can. And whilst cost would come down sort of naturally as part of volume and economies to scale there are also technical innovations that can reduce costs, so as an example we have a program Innovate UK called the Faraday Battery Challenge which focuses on battery development. And if we could see a five percent increase in energy storage capacity for battery, for a vehicle that could be translated to a five percent reduction of battery cost, which would be quite significant for a vehicle. Or equally something like a manufacturing innovation - so the assembly of electric motors. If we could reduce the cost associated with that then you can reduce the cost of the whole drivetrain, so that there's a huge amount that we can do kind of in the technology that makes up the vehicle and then also in the infrastructure too.

Yes, no definitely. Okay well I think that's all of the questions that I wanted to ask you, so thank you so much for your time today, it's been brilliant talking and hearing your view on all of these issues. So we hope to see more valuable insights from Innovate UK in the next few few months really. Thank you very much, it's been good fun.